The Relative Comment

soothing waves of relativity

Archive for August 2011

Unicorn Blood Makes your car GO GO GO!, or, How Michele Bachmann learned to stop worrying and love the carbon

leave a comment »

Today’s Star Tribune Politics section has two headlines, back to back, regarding Michele Bachmann. One of them is an eye-rolling tortuous moment of political tomfoolery about God (I imagine, I didn’t read it), and the other, well, is just ridiculous.

Michele Bachmann has been taking her energy platform to the nation, recently. Her energy platform is: ruin the entire nation because we have fossil fuels. Also, environmentalism is the cause of every problem the US has regarding energy. Specifically, the threat is radical environmentalism that “locks up” America’s fuel sources over concerns like: global warming is very real and a threat to human welfare, and, we don’t have enough fresh water to continue wasting it on costly fuel extraction. The United States are the “king daddy dogs” of energy, according to Bachmann, and we should be drilling everywhere, and using every fossil fuel source we have. And we should do it all in an environmentally safe way. But we shouldn’t worry too much about that, and to make sure we don’t,  the EPA should be abolished. Because that’s not radical, that’s responsible.

And when Bachmann says everywhere, she means it. The Everglades? Oil Shale in the Western Mountain States? The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?  There has to be even more ecologically sensitive areas to drill for oil in the US that Bachmann wants to add to the list. How about the intestinal track of spotted owls (are mice made of oil?) or the blood of a princess unicorn (if it makes you live forever, can it make your car run forever?)?

As much as Bachmann might love to deny it (radical environmentalism just has a great ring to it), there is a whole ream of reasons we don’t use every stone or drop of fossil fuel in the US, beyond the impact of radical environmentalists, that keep us from drilling in the ANWR and in the Everglades, and there are reasons that we are not stripping mountain sides to remove oil from shale. Just a few are

  • it is cost prohibitive to drill in many places we are not already drilling
  • the amount of resources, such as the ANWR, though high in number (billions of barrels!) would actually have a fairly low impact on fuel consumption, and fuel costs, in the US;
  • Floridians do not want to have drilling in the Everglades (“It would be as crazy as saying, ‘let’s drill under Space Mountain‘ in Disney World.)
  • not to mention that we are already drilling right next door to the Everglades National Park , sites from which I am sure they are already drinking the milkshake.
  • there is a very small amount of oil in shale in comparison to rock. In total the quantity of fuel is very high (billions of barrels of oil equivalent!), but the process of extracting it, well that just costs too much money and results in too little fuel.
  • not to mention the process uses untoward amounts of water, which the west has a distinct shortage of.

These are just a few reasons, other than radical environmentalism (how did concern about climate change and clean air and fresh water become radical environmentalism on the Right? how did they manage to skew reality so much?), that we do not want to drill and extract fossil fuels everywhere we might have fossil fuels. Just extraction, not even getting to the myriad problems of burning these fuels and dealing with the GHGs they release. Saying we have bonkers amounts of coal, which we do, is not necessarily the strongest argument for continuing to burn coal until we either ruin the planet or run out of coal.

Of course we will continue to burn coal, and use oil long into the future, but we should all want to stop, even if it seems impossible, because we should all know that there are costs to using dirty fuels. Even idealistically if not pragmatically, the Drill, baby Drill!ers should recognize that not using fossil fuels is preferable, right? There are actual losses, in human life and financial resources and natural resources, that come from Michele Bachmann’s energy platform. There is no way to debate these losses. You can justify them in a balance between the alternatives, but even Michele Bachmann cannot say these costs are not real. And it does not take a radical environmentalist to say: wait, your plan is too dangerous. How about we try something else?

Written by Christopher ZF

August 31, 2011 at 10:39

A Ramble on the Boring Nature of Ideological Battling

with 2 comments

The United States once again is drawing near that ever-sacred year of madness: The Presidential Election. You would be forgiven for thinking that we’ve already been in the throes of this process–candidates have already left the race, joined the race, the candidate selection has taken its final shape, panic has kicked in because the candidate selection is unsettled–but we really haven’t reached Presidential Election mode. Just the silly season that comes immediately before.

Fall is just around the corner, though, and the reality of Primary Presidential Nomination and Presidential Head-to-Head is just weeks away. I love it and can’t wait, because TRC loves (LOVES) politics. But I am already weary of the boring, boring ideological battling that will eventually accompany the madness. This is not just liberal v. conservative, but it will be conservative v. conservative as well, as candidates seek to find the perfect ideological portfolio to convince the party he or she will be just the thing that everyone is looking for. (It is not liberal v. liberal, of course, because the liberal is the incumbent). The nominees must battle out their ideological bona fides, because their policies, in all likelihood, are pretty much the same. Hopefully in the countless discussions about science and Christianity, and Christianity and Mormonism, and small government and small businesses, and how Liberals are terrible, we can learn something about how the candidate will govern. I doubt that we will learn much, because political ideology, in my opinion, has little to do with how one will act as an elected officially. At least that is what TRC hopes beyond hope. Because when ideology becomes policy-making in a divided government, no one makes any policy (see debt ceiling, and everything else the past year). And so, I dread the ideological battling.

Why do I dread ideological debates? Because ideology is boring. Some Americans are political animals, and some are not. Some people are religious, some are not. The world influences us through our experiences and our genes and our education and through a million other factors and the adult human grows into the kind of person that has an ideology that best suits their vision of the world as it is, and how it should be. That’s it. I am no more interested in your ideological pinnings than I am in your personal secrets. Don’t try to convince me to change and I won’t try to convince you. Because it won’t happen. You or I might change our ideological worldview, indeed this happens all the time. But I think it rarely occurs because someone of the other ilk convinced the other. It was probably a further combination of the factors listed above, leading an individual to reassess for themselves what she values, and why.

So don’t worry about me and my values, and I won’t worry about you and yours.  My worldview is carved out of my life, it has been given much (too much?) thought, and it works. For example, I don’t believe in god, I do believe in progressive taxation as the best way to take care of all the needs of the United States, I appreciate the value of welfare programs even though I know people take advantage of them, I think science explains the universe better than Religion, but I think stories are how we understand the universe, and I still have a viable morality that imbues my worldview. These are things that inform my ideological worldview. You might be an evangelical conservative, who swears by the Bible and by small government and the smallest taxes imaginable, rejects all science as hot-air, thinks handouts to the poor are a waste of money, and believe that if you are not a Christian you are going to hell. That’s fine. The wasted time spent trying to convert the other is boring and fruitless.

I can imagine that some readers of TRC are wondering, if ideology is so boring, why this blog reports about things like the views of science of the Republican candidates. What does it matter if Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann believe humans were created by a god rather than biological evolution? (if they do, I have no idea). This is an excellent point, and makes the valued distinction this whole post is about. Bachmann and Perry are free to reject all the science they want. That’s their right. But when Michele Bachmann starts a charter school with the intent of mixing the lines of school and religion, or when Rick Perry claims that the state of Texas teaches both creation and evolution, the conversation is not about ideology, it is about policy. This is a fine line, and it is why political and religious ideology can never fully be removed from government or policy-making, and the expectation that they would be completely removed is unrealistic.

Nevertheless, we have laws about what is allowed in the the science classroom, and we have a tax code, and we have programs that are funded by the government, and they operate regardless of your ideology. If you claim that you want to teach creation in the science classroom, you are talking about policy (unconstitutional policy, by-the-by, at least as of now) and I am happy to have a heated debate about history and how educational policy should be decided and whether the previous Court rulings rejecting Creation Science and ID were correct. That sounds like a blast. If you want to argue that science leads children away from salvation and into atheism, or that anyone who wants to raise taxes is against freedom and liberty, or that liberalism leads to fascism by making taking away individual choices and providing a nanny state, then you are just talking political ideology. And as much as those sentiments are perfectly absurd and incorrect and ignorant, it is your right to claim them. See why ideological battling is a waste of time?

What is interesting is what you want to see the government do, and how you think the government should do it. The US has voters like me and you, and everyone else, and the government will have to operate regardless. This is the question that is worth the fight: how should we govern a nation where there is no unified ideological majority? There is probably not even an ideological majority within each of our two parties, let alone nationally. But we have parties, and they have general outlines of what the values and beliefs of their party are, and the parties work through an often contentious process to bring about a candidate, and those candidates face off, and hopefully the winner will be able to govern the nation towards my side, because my side is a better way to run a country. Of course, you want the opposite of that, because you and I don’t agree on political ideology. Oh well.

How should we run the country anyway?

Written by Christopher ZF

August 30, 2011 at 12:52

Who needs to spend 800 dollars for a stupid little glowy apple logo.

leave a comment »

To commemorate the resignation of Steve Jobs from Apple, and the pining of all Mac-obsessed whiny creative types, I present this video from the Onion. I shall now retreat to my Dell computer, and resume work on my Manifesto.

Written by Christopher ZF

August 26, 2011 at 14:22

Posted in humor

100 percent legal. 10 percent ethical.

leave a comment »

What are the consequences of mixing the theatrical with the political? I don’t mean this in the sense of, Bachmann or Obama’s campaigning is all theater and no substance. I mean this in the sense of, Stephen Colbert is not an actual political figure, but an actor. It’s time to talk about the Colbert SuperPAC: Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

Besides having the best name for a political action committee ever devised, what should this mean to Americans involved in politics? Colbert is using the Super PAC to comment on his perceived absurdity of the unmitigated rights of Super PACs in American politics. And satire and politics have always had a close knit relationship. But the NY Times is wondering now, does Colbert cross a line? Does making a “fake” Super PAC, that is actually a real Super PAC and both raises money and spends money like a real Super PAC, and using that Super PAC to impact real elections, cross the line from satire to just being wrong?

Says the Times:

Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow may be a running gag on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, but it is spending money as it sees fit, with little in the way of disclosure, just like its noncomedic brethren.
Comedians, including Mr. Colbert in the last election, have undertaken faux candidacies. But his Super PAC riff is a real-world exercise, engaging in a kind of modeling by just doing what Super PACs do.
And he has come under some real-world criticism for inserting himself in the political process so directly.  

TRC thinks: no. Colbert is safely in the realm of his satire comfy chair. Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow actually might impact the silliness of the world of PACs, but it’s not going to affect the presidential election. Colbert might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he is not malicious. He’s interested in the process.

“I am much taken by this and can’t think of any real parallel in history,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution. “Yes, comedians have always told jokes about elections, but this is quite different. This is a funny person being very serious, actually talking about process. What comedian talks about process?”

And that might be the point. I imagine very few Iowa voters voted for Richard Parry. But spending money on advertisements that lampoon the advertisements subjecting children to cornography while playing terribly, emotional music actually offers a real opportunity for people to acknowledge just how ridiculous campaign advertising, and campaign finance actually is. It is so ridiculous, in fact, that a comedian on a fake-opinion-news show can start a PAC with the FEC, and raise untold monies to spend in any way Colbert can possibly imagine. It is brilliant both because it probably shouldn’t be allowed, but it must be allowed, which is ridiculous, and thus should be laughed at.

Colbert seems to accept his absurdity. His character acknowledged that establishing his Super PAC is 100 percent legal, and probably only 10 percent ethical. But that might be the point: is that any less ethical than any other Super PAC?

Written by Christopher ZF

August 24, 2011 at 16:35

one more time, for good measure: Science and the GOP

with one comment

Here’s a sentence that is maddening, but potentially important for conservatives:

Although an overwhelming majority of scientists agree that carbon pollution is contributing to global climate change, and virtually all accept that an evolutionary process of natural selection explains the emergence of human life, polls show that most Republican voters second Perry’s rejection of both beliefs.

TRC won’t beat the same drum forever on this issue, but there are too many interesting pieces to read and write about surrounding the science v. not-science argument in the GOP right now (I don’t want to say it is a science v. faith issue, because it really isn’t). Today’s story, The Great Divide, comes from the National Journal. One of the central points it makes probably sounds familiar to Democrats. As this politicking  divide between the pro-science Huntsman and not-science Perry continues, the GOP will have the higher educated, elite wing of the party squaring off against the blue-collar, religious wing of the party.

Even so, Huntsman’s championing of science over faith and ideology offers him an opportunity to raise his profile with what his campaign increasingly acknowledges is his natural constituency: the overlapping circles of the party’s best-educated, least religiously devout, and moderate elements. At the same time, Perry’s staunch defense of unwavering hard-right positions on both questions helps him appeal to unvarnished social and economic conservatives as a “battle-tested conservative warrior,” as his campaign described him in a fundraising solicitation this week.
By solidifying those identities, the argument could benefit both men. But, if it persists, their debate could also highlight the differences between the GOP’s college-educated and less devout managerial wing and its more blue-collar and evangelical populist wing. The two camps converge in support for cutting taxes and spending, but differ on cultural questions, sometimes in their views but more in how much they emphasize them.

The GOP is, one might say, at a bit of a political crossroads. The future is going to come, and there are a some things are likely to happen. Evolution will stay the best explanation for the origin of species, climate change will continue to wreak havoc around the globe. Also, taxes will eventually require an increase for some reason or another and marriage equality will continue to spread across the nation. The Republican Party will have to figure out how it will identify itself politically in relation to each of these issues. There are factions of the GOP that dispute the politically central Conservative position on each of these issues, and those groups aren’t going away. But for the sake of the 2012 election, now is probably not the time do air the dirty laundry.

Said Alex Lundry, a Republican voter-targeting expert who is neutral in the 2012 race (though others in his firm TargetPoint work for Mitt Romney)[,] “There are a couple of core debates that need to be had in the next 10 years—over gay rights, immigration and the role of science. But in order for Republicans to win this election, it has to be a referendum on Barack Obama … and his stewardship of the economy. To the extent any debates are had in the party that diverge from that goal, that’s bad.”

If the candidates don’t start talking about policy, and eventually they will, but if somehow Perry overtakes Romney as the front-runner, and continues to wrangle about in agitating the faithful by demeaning science, how can he expect to win a general election? The NJ sees this possibility:

[These arguments] highlight one of the core Democratic hopes for 2012: that Republican positions on social and environmental issues will repel some white-collar suburban voters otherwise economically disenchanted with President Obama.

This is not unfamiliar to the Democrats. Painting too narrow a picture of oneself in the primary usually results in a real picture making one a cartoon. When all is done with the GOP infighting, the winner might just end up like John Kerry, wind-surfing to nowhere.

Written by Christopher ZF

August 24, 2011 at 09:40

Huntsman’s Science Tweet

leave a comment »

Whether or not Jon Huntsman manages to secure the 2012 Republican Nomination for President, he has officially made his presence felt and impacted the race. To TRC, Hunstman has bettered the race for president. And all he did was tweet.

What did he tweet? “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

That was it. He was responding to the anti-science politicking that Rick Perry was engaging in: within a matter of hours Perry had proclaimed that evolution is just a theory with some gaps in it and that Texas schools teach evolution and creation, and that climate change is not proven and the science is falling apart. Or as he wrote last year in his book, climate change is “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”

Huntsman then tweeted his tweet, and it turns out it was the most popular tweet yet tweeted by any of the 2012 Candidates, garnering 3600 retweets, beating Palin’s  most popular tweet by 50% (imagine that sentence being written 5 years ago). Huntsman, not content to keep his science-promoting self to 140 characters or less, continued his anti-Perry’s-anti-science position on ABC’s This Week, where Huntsman said:

 I think there’s a serious problem.  The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem.  We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.  When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science – Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.
The Republican Party has to remember that we’re drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush.  And we’ve got a lot of traditions to draw upon.  But I can’t remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a – a party that – that was antithetical to science. I’m not sure that’s good for our future and it’s not a winning formula. 

The pro-science tweet may be the most defining moment of the 2012 campaign thus far. It shows, if nothing else, that there are actually differences among candidates on real issues. For all the sparring of the GOP candidates, they seem pretty closely tied on policy. Each candidate, Huntsman included, claimed they would refuse a 10 to 1 cuts to revenue increases scenario for deficit reduction, for example, an almost unbelievably intransigent position to govern from. There has to be differences somewhere, and with Huntsman tacking towards a pro-science position (at least in comparison), the possibility of a real conversation about the role of science in Republican Politics and Policy might be possible.

And a lot of folks are talking about Republicans, science, and Jon Huntsman. The NY Times has a blog wondering whether the GOP has a fundamental science problem. Religion Dispatches thanks Perry’s science stance and Huntsman response for making the Mormon Romney seem more moderate in relation to Perry’s extreme Christianity. Washington Post blogged about the Roaring Huntsman and his mild-mannered roar. It goes on and on. The past 4 days of coverage for Huntsman must make his heart swell.

And it should. It doesn’t mean that he will become the 2012 Republican Candidate for President. It might even mean that he will have a harder time reaching that goal. But his tweet provided movement in a race for the presidency where anti-science stances dominate. So good job to Huntsman for actually impacting the race, for the better.

Written by Christopher ZF

August 22, 2011 at 13:49

Are all persons created equal?

with 2 comments

Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal. At the time, of course, that meant white men. Then it meant black men. Then it meant women. Men became a malleable word; we could say that all persons are created equal. But now we have new categories of persons.

Namely, Corporations. That corporations were given individual rights of persons is not new. It came about in the early 19th century, and corporate persons have been further broadening his/her (are corporations gendered?) rights since then. The corporate person comes in to great conflict with another category of person to increasingly build rights in the US government over the last 150 years, according to Joel Bakan in today’s NY Times: children.

A clash between these two newly created legal entities — children and corporations — was, perhaps, inevitable. Century-of-the-child reformers sought to resolve conflicts in favor of children. But over the last 30 years there has been a dramatic reversal: corporate interests now prevail. Deregulation, privatization, weak enforcement of existing regulations and legal and political resistance to new regulations have eroded our ability, as a society, to protect children.

Bakan has familiar complaints about the corporate impacts on children, such as the role of advertising to children regarding junk food and media and violence. But he also includes two other movements of the corporate person that threaten childhood: the increasing push for childhood medication and the desire to market more psychotropic drugs towards children; and the increased quantities of toxic chemicals, not just environmentally (though definitely environmentally), but in toys and products marketed to kids. The world of chemicals in the US is highly unregulated, and harmful exposure is a regular, and serious, threat.

Bakan concludes: As Nelson Mandela has said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” By that measure, our current failure to provide stronger protection of children in the face of corporate-caused harm reveals a sickness in our societal soul. The good news is that we can — and should — work as citizens, through democratic channels and institutions, to bring about change.

I struggle to make sense of corporate person-hood. How we can treat a corporation equally with a person in the courts absolutely boggles my mind. But it is the case, and we have survived such legal standing as a nation for 180 years or so. Corporations being protected by the First Amendment may be stupid, but it is not the harbinger of our nation’s decline.

And yet, children are fatter than ever. More children are medicated at earlier ages than ever. The amount of toxic chemicals in a child’s environment is greater than ever, and such chemicals pose more risk to public health than ever.  Are these the result of greater protections of corporate rights? Or are parents to blame? Or declining cultural values? Maybe they’re all to blame. But I doubt they are all equally to blame. It’s possible, and fair, to put pressure on parents to protect their children from too much advertising. And arguing the decline of moral and cultural values as cause for societies problems presumes that everyone has the same idea of what that means, which is simply not the case. Bad parenting is a problem, declining values (I suppose) could be a problem (though this argument makes my stomach wretch), but these things do not account for the increasing risks to children.

In this light, Bakan makes an interesting and important comparison. How can we balance corporate individual rights with the rights of those who cannot protect themselves? Sometimes, corporations come into direct conflict with children, right? If we continue to corporatize our public school education for example, corporations will continue receiving essentially free-access to children. If corporations want to change history or alter science to benefit his/her own image, is that right protected by the First Amendment? Even at the cost of an education based on facts? I would hope not, but how could we say no?

Written by Christopher ZF

August 22, 2011 at 10:54

Posted in business, education